Rand & SEOmoz: Unprofessional and Irresponsible Actions
I’m sure this isn’t going to be popular but I’d ask anyone reading this to hold off making a judgment on this until you read the entire post. In fact, I’ve written three different versions of this post each one less passionate and less direct than I would like. However, I think I need to listen to a bit of my own advice and remove as much of the “personal” aspect from this post as possible.
Over the last few months I’ve observed a disturbing but undeniable pattern of behavior with posts on SEOmoz. Nearly three months ago Rand targeted Aviva in a post “about directories and why so many of them have little to no value.” The post cause quite an uproar amongst the SEO community and probably the loudest detractor was Michael VanDeMar. Michael wrote a scathing post which drew the attention of Rand and many others. During the heated discussion that followed, Rand wrote the following in a response on Michael’s blog:
I think the best way to determine whether Aviva passes value is to buy some links there, point them to some test sites in relatively non-competitive fields and see if the links can help to raise the rankings. If they can, then my arguments are baseless and your points are validated. Frankly, Iâ€™m surprised you didnâ€™t go this route to help prove me wrong – no evidence would be more damning.
In any case, Iâ€™ve done so tonight – bought a couple links to different pages and weâ€™ll see what the results look like.
Just to be clear on that timeline, Rand singled out Aviva as an example of a directory that had little to no value. Michael called him out on it (his methods are not the issue here) and THEN Rand tested what he had ALREADY stated! I responded with the following comment on Michael’s blog:
Rand, one MAJOR question I have after reading your response here is this: If you believe the best way to determine whether Aviva passes value is to buy links and see if the links help, why in the world wouldnâ€™t you have done so BEFORE blasting Aviva? Wouldnâ€™t that have been the responsible thing to do?
Either Rand did not see it or he chose to ignored it but the question is still very valid in my opinion. Rand has neither updated the post about Aviva nor to my knowledge shared the results of his better-late-than-never experiment. Bottom line, Rand claimed another company’s product had no value without bothering (by his own admission) to test whether it was true or not.
A couple of months later, Michael once again criticized SEOmoz in a post which once again, became popular on Sphinn. The content of the post was certainly controversial, however, the points Michael brought up are not in fact what I found disturbing. What troubled me this time was the behavior of several SEOmoz employees in the discussion that followed on Sphinn. Before we go much further into this, I feel I need to state two things. Michael writes for a blog titled Smackdown, on which he argues his side of the issue rather bluntly. However, the SEOmoz employees are just that, employee’s representing their company. The difference in the positions of the people involved is critical.
Very early on in the discussion, Rebecca, an SEOmoz employee, jumped into the conversation in defense of her boss. Unfortunately, she did so in one of the most unprofessional manners possible. Her second comment in the thread referred to Michael VanDeMar as the “Michael Moore of the SEO sphere” in a sarcasm laced tirade. You can read the entire “discussion” here but suffice it to say, things continued down hill from there. As if one SEOmoz employee acting inappropriately in the thread wasn’t enough, Jane Copeland also weighed in with a much more tame, but still, in my opinion, unprofessional comment. Whether the employees of SEOmoz felt their boss was being unfairly criticized and attacked on a personal level or not, the point remains they acted in a very unprofessional manner. I mean could you imagine a Google employee jumping into a thread about one of my many criticisms of their company and acting like that? Of course not! To this date, no public retraction or apology has been issued. SEOmoz has in fact simply ignored the situation, I’m assuming hoping to act as if it never happened.
The final straw came just yesterday with Rand’s post entitled “The Google Payola Issue Isn’t Going Away Any Time Soon.” The post discusses the topic of paid posts and in it, Rand writes “My point with all this isn’t to “out” sites for selling links – no way”. However, that’s precisely what Rand did! He methodically listed and discussed several sites that he suspected of selling links. What’s more, he even goes so far as to point out some of those sites’ rankings. While this might not seem like a big deal to you, keep in mind that Matt Cutts, a Google engineer, regularly reads and comments on SEOmoz’s blog. In essence, Rand hand picked a list of sites to report to Google for selling links, and then had the audacity to claim that’s not what he was doing! When Donna of SEO-Scoop had the audacity to call him out on this issue, I read a now familiar pattern of posts. Rand responded to Donna’s comment with the following statement:
Donna – I get where you’re coming from, but I think that just staying quiet on the topic or saying “I found a bunch of them but I can’t tell you where” doesn’t make for very good blogging or information. My point here has nothing to do with these specific sites (except Forbes, which Google already “caught”) but with showing how incredibly saturated the Internet is with sites that “violate” Google’s “payola” issue.
As far as the actual damage to the handful of sites above – I’ve “outed” plenty of paid links in the past on SEOmoz and while I suspect that Matt & co. have probably reduced the value of those purchased links, I don’t believe they’ve killed the rankings of traffic to those sites (and I doubt they’ll do it with most of the above sites). Clearly they had already seen the Forbes issue and their content still ranks great – Forbes has a massive amount of search traffic and rankings from Google.
I understand your concern, but I don’t think that staying anonymous and simply saying “they’re out there” provides value.
I almost don’t know where to start on this. First of all, Rand’s overall response to the criticism is the same, “you’re right, I probably should have done things different” response we were given on the directories issue, and several issues before that. Frankly, it’s wearing thin. Also, Rand once again says that his point had nothing to do with the specific sites, and yet he took the time to go into so much detail about the sites. Next, he mentions that he has “outed” plenty of links on SEOmoz in the past and knows, or at least suspects that Google has changed the value of those links. This statement tells me that Rand knowingly reduced the value of someone else’s property. Not only did he harm the person selling the links, he also likely just wasted the money of whoever purchased the links! Let’s continue…
In the same sentence Rand states that he “doubts” Google will kill the rankings with “most of the above sites.” He doesn’t BELIEVE that they won’t do that to MOST? Only most? Not all? So not only did Rand knowingly devalue the links, but he also jeopardized the rankings and traffic of some of the sites he discussed. Now I suspect that Rand’s response would be that I’m just dealing in semantics here but think the point remains, Rand and SEOmoz once again put someone else’s business and livelihood in danger.
Rand and the rest of SEOmoz, it is time you start taking responsibility for your actions. You know by now that your actions carry more weight than most and should also realize that despite the laid back, open nature of your company, you should still conduct yourself in a professional manner. Most of the actions discussed in this post would have cost people their jobs in many companies. Please don’t misunderstand me, I’m not telling anyone how to run their business nor am I calling for anyone to be fired. I simply think it’s time that SEOmoz start acting in a responsible and respectable fashion befitting their company’s profile in this industry. As I mentioned I’m sure this post won’t be very popular. However, I think these are all issues that need to be addressed. This is not meant as an attack on Rand or anyone in your company as a person, it’s an indictment of some of the actions I’ve discussed.
Yea that post from yesterday on Payola rubbed me the wrong way as well.
I think all search marketers, especially those who blog, should keep their mouths shut when it comes to helping to arm Google in their war against paid links. Really, Google is assisted so often and all in the name of a “good” post.
The whole paid links thing needs to go underground in my opinion meaning that brokers need to do a better job of hiding their inventories and revealing them only to trusted sources, publishers need to do a better job of disclosing paid links to real users but not search engine algorithms and people need to quit calling attention to those who are buying and/or selling links.
Links are an essential part of any organic search marketing strategy, with paid links being a very effective tool. Let’s stop helping Google fight the war they have waged upon us.
i agree completely with the article and the previous comments.
Well said – when put like that I agree it is very poor form.
SEJ did a similar thing with some hitcounter site that was ranking via some old style way of using the noscript tag. The consequence being the ranking site and the site that supplied the juice had its ranking juice removed.
Ive no truck with people discussing tactics or examples but there are better ways of doing things sometimes. There really is no need to dob people in like that.
People do all manner of things to rank well, some like to call these things ‘cheating’ yet the reality is that at some point in the mix all things being relatively equal there comes a point when a thing that is done to Site A that manages to tip the scales over the efforts of site B then for some that ‘tactic’ could be construed as gaming the system. Once you go down the road of calling out everything that gives a site an edge, then IMO you are into very dodgy ground indeed.
Not to repeat myself, I commented on this at Sphinn: http://sphinn.com/story/8393#c11461
@David Wallace – Did you ever think that perhaps someone might do this to get or stay in Google’s good graces? (this does not refer to anyone in particular)
I don’t disagree with this entire post, but I will say that regarding the Sphinn thread, unfortunately for you, Skitzzo, you won’t be getting the apology you’ve been waiting for. I suppose you and I have different definitions of professionalism in that regard.
While I can certainly appreciate how some people could easily misinterpret Rand’s intentions in the “Payola” post (I, myself, agree with Donna that perhaps it was bad form to name the example sites), I find it very disappointing to hear people question Rand’s overall integrity and motives.
We don’t wear suits and ties around the Mozplex. We have fun, enjoy what we do and who we work with. We are blessed to be part of a company and a community that we love and participate in openly and honestly. We are more casual than some big companies and perhaps even some individuals would be comfortable with. We count each other as close friends, not just coworkers and, yes, when one of us is attacked personally (as Mr. VanDeMar’s post did to Rand) and, in the opinions of the recipients friends and colleagues, unjustly, we are likely to jump to their defense; not just as coworkers, but friends.
We’re not perfect and sometimes mistakes are made and statements are taken the wrong way. Overall though, we try to treat people fairly and openly. We don’t speak in press release jargon and we don’t vet comments on our blog. We respond to criticism when we feel it’s warranted (Rand removed the identifying information of the sites in question on the “Payola” post once it was pointed out that it may be harmful).
To accuse the company or my colleagues of being unprofessional because they care deeply about what they do, and have loyalty and devotion to the people they work with seems petty. Contrast it with the current Government Administration wherein any problem must have a scape-goat to be blamed and cut loose. I’d much rather work among a company of fierce loyalty and camaraderie than a tongue-biting, reserved environment of reservation and hesitancy. Furthermore, and this is not to say that Skitzzo had anything to do with it, it is impossible to take claims of professional merit seriously from anyone who would be so petty, childish and cruel as to engage in the “Rat Fishkin” shenanigans going about recently (I won’t link…I suspect most of you know what I’m talking about).
I appreciate differences of opinion, but to immediately call professionalism into question when you don’t agree with one of us is beyond hypocritical, it’s just mean.
This reply is my view and opinion. Neither Rand, nor any other member of SEOmoz has read it or, to my knowledge, is even aware I’m writing it.
Rebecca, which parts do you agree with? To be honest I wasn’t really expecting that kind of response and am encouraged that it sounds like you do agree with some aspects of the post.
Rebecca you seem to be implying that being professional means never apologizing. I doubt that’s what you mean but that is what I got from your comment. I don’t know if we can edit comments here or not but if so a rephrase would probably be good.
Comments from SEOmoz stuff lately are just rude.
rmc, she was saying that she didn’t think she owed an apology, because in her mind she wasn’t being unprofessional.
No rmccarley, that’s not what I mean, but personally I ascribe to the notion that one should apologize when one feels remorseful or wants to admit fault. I echo Scott’s comment above, and while I do admit that the thread between me and Michael got out of hand, I simply can’t compromise my integrity by apologizing for my opinion of the matter.
Skitzzo, I do agree that Rand’s “Google Payola” post was a misstep on his part. I don’t know if he really thought of the implications of his post, and the SEO community called him out on it.
Scott, I think you misinterpreted some of my post. I am not criticizing your colleagues for defending their boss and friend, I am criticizing them because of the manner in which they defended him.
Also, I’m sorry but I don’t think removing the specific references helps much at this point. Yes it is better than not doing anything but you can’t un-ring that bell so to speak.
Also, I never approached Rand’s motives for this post. I was very careful to limit this post to only actions. Whatever Rand’s motives were in each of these instances, the facts are that he damaged other peoples’ businesses and sites. By his own statements he has admitted in the Aviva incident that he did not do the testing that he should have before writing such a post. It’s called due diligence and it wasn’t there in that case. In this Payola instance, Rand’s remarks in the comments once again illustrate that he knowingly put sites at risk.
Those are the facts, Rand’s integrity and motives are not the issue here. His actions as well as those of some of your fellow mozzers, and lack of proper reaction, are the issue.
P.S. Scott, to your credit, this is the type of professional defense of your boss and co-workers that I would expect from SEOmoz employees. Rebecca, this is what I mean when I say professionalism. Yours as well as Jane’s comments in the Sphinn threads as well as SEOmoz blog comments do not, in my opinion display the appropriate level of professionalism for employees of a company.
I didn’t take it that way. I took it as she will not retract any statement which she doesn’t feel was wrong or unwarranted.
People that stand their ground for their beliefs in the face of harsh criticism tells me a lot about their character. A+
Oh, as for the Rat Fishkin cartoon, obviously ToonRefugee is also owned by us however, it was not published here so as not to take this discussion off course. We have in the past published cartoons mocking several other public figures (Matt Cutts is a favorite target of ours) including myself but given the tenor of previous conversations involving criticism of SEOmoz and Rand, we decided it would be best published elsewhere. Feel free to debate the merits of it over on Toon Refugee but again, I feel the need to point out. We are not a company with the type of clout in the SEO industry that you are and Rand has willingly thrown himself into the spot ligh. You have to be willing to accept the good with the bad.
@ Jeremy, in that case you must think Michael VanDeMar is up to his ears in character. There’s standing your ground when you’re right, and then there is being stubborn when you’re wrong. Often times that line is in the eye of the beholder.
First of all, we need threaded comments on this blog. That’s going on the list.
Secondly, Rebecca, please understand. I wasn’t asking for an apology for your opinion. I saying that in my opinion, an apology was due because of the way in which you stated your opinion.
Also, I believe Rand should update his post about Aviva sharing the results of his test.
Furthermore, I think Rand and SEOmoz should at the very least apologize to the sites he outed as well as those who purchased the links on those sites. I’d like to see you guys offer free services to those sites but I don’t really expect that to happen.
Lastly, if exposing paid links is no big deal because they are on websites out there for all to see, I’d like to see Rand expose all the paid links he knows about. Not just a select few. To me this is the problem with Rand’s position. He was saying it wasn’t about the sites and that no harm will be done to them because of his post but I haven’t seen him willing to do this with client sites.
To me anyone publicly making examples of other sites or exposing their paid links or sold links, is inviting spiraling retaliation that is bound to hurt everyone involved. It’s like gang land shootings and retaliation. Once it starts, it tends to get out of hand.
@Scott: Regarding”it is impossible to take claims of professional merit seriously from anyone who would be so petty, childish and cruel as to engage in the â€œRat Fishkinâ€ shenanigans”
If you’re referring to the cartoon ( http://toonrefugee.com/toonblog/google/rat-fishkin/101 there I dropped the link ), I did then I suggest you read the daily newspaper, watch the Daily Show, etc. Public figures open themselves to parody and it’s often not pretty. I’ve done Matt Cutts, Skitzzo, Big Doug and others and they all survived.
And when you think about it, since rat and fink both have the slang connotation of tattling on someone and Rat Fink has that big RF on his overalls which just happen to be Rands initialsâ€¦
Well it just works. but I’ll leave it to you professionals to actually sort out this issue which really doesn’t affect me on a daily (or even annual) basis.
VanDeMar is someone to be ignored if you ask me. There is a difference between aggressively defending yourself or your friends and going on the attack. Based on the one post I have read of his, he’s like a radio shock jock just trying to be abrasive as he can in an effort to stand out. I have no problem with it, but I also ignore it.
It doesn’t seem to me that seomoz employees/supporters can get the idea that this is not and was not a personal attack on Rand. It was a criticism of a post. If you are going to be in the public eye, blogging none the less. You had better be ready to defend your position. And to date I’ve never seen a position defended on seomoz. Rand, or someone speaking on his behalf (not necessarily at his request) says “if you don’t like it don’t read it) That hardly defends your point.
Why oh why won’t someone just answer the questions and try to defend the position? The handling of this situation is very similar to the last one we saw.
A bit of a let down to say the least.
Despite the tone of your entire comment, that blurb right there completely screwed any chance of it actually being “professional” in nature. You think a cartoon making fun of Rand like that is cruel? Are you serious?
So, must be really close to accurate then? Is that what you are saying? In the same way that comparing Melinda Doolittle to Shrek might hit a little too close to home for her, you think that calling Rand a Fink is just being plain ole mean, in your opinion?
That is an ignorant attitude to take. While VanDeMar is a bulldog no doubt. He is hardly one to be ignored. He, more often than not, has a very valid point to what he is doing. But if you insist on ignoring him… your loss.
Just when I thought I could leave this thread you make a really good point that I hadn’t thought of.
Quote: “Iâ€™d like to see Rand expose all the paid links he knows about. Not just a select few.”
That is probably the best argument made about this whole situation so far. I seriously doubt Rand would think about using examples where his clients or friends had bought links. To do so would be unethical for clients and rude to friends.
Please stop making valid arguments, I hate being torn and having to question my own thoughts. I like it better when people make random arguments like, bad link outer, bad, bad. It makes it so much easier to not give their argument merit. :D
Lol Jeremy, I’ll try my best not to do it again. Usually you don’t have to worry about that kind of thing from me. I’m not sure what got into me.
@Tim – Why tyvm. :)
@Jeremy – well, since I blogged about that very thing earlier today, does that mean I’m no longer an ass as well…?
Btw – I didn’t steal that from skitzzo, although he did comment about it Sphinn slightly before I did that post. I hadn’t seen it at that point, I swear. :P
Actually, Rand is the only one to have commented on the cartoon at TOONrefugee to this point.
Actually, Michael, I do understand and appreciate the humor and intent behind the cartoon. My argument is that it’s unmeritorious to argue professionalism while at the same time engaging in something that really boils down to simple name-calling. Whether legitimate or not, the playground schtick cheapens the argument somewhat.
@ all, the cartoon and this post are two different issues and entities and should be treated as such. If you’d like to discuss the cartoon, I’m sure Pops would welcome the traffic.
I think it does distract a bit from this conversation, and that’s something I’m trying hard to avoid.
I don’t think many of the issues have been addressed although Rebecca and Scott have at least engaged in discussing what I view as the “middle point”, that of Rebecca and Jane’s conduct.
I still believe neither the first issue (the lack of testing BEFORE blasting Aviva) nor the last issue (the fact that Rand states it’s no big deal that he “outed” the paid links and yet has not responded to my challenge to then “out” all paid links he knows of) have been addressed at all.
“Secondly, Rebecca, please understand. I wasnâ€™t asking for an apology for your opinion. I saying that in my opinion, an apology was due because of the way in which you stated your opinion.”
Thank you for clarifying. I do appreciate that. Like I said, I do admit that the thread got a bit out of hand.
As for your other points not being addressed, all I can say is that they have to do with Rand and his opinions in his posts. I can’t speak for/on behalf of him, but maybe Rand will address your criticisms with a comment or with a follow-up post.
I read many of the posts you mentioned before I read this one, and all the back and forth of nofollow’s and paid links to me just makes muddy water thicker.
I went as far as to contact TLA’s and they actually emailed me the “Payola” post to read… go figure.
@ Rebecca – I figured as much… something in the phrasing threw me off.
Wow… One thing begets another apparently. I believe it was a way of staying in good graces. PERIOD. It was the old “you cant beat them, join them”… Pops I think you need to make a dual cartoon one with rand as a young anakin like in SW:I fighting for SEO’s and than the next cartoon will be one of him as Darth Vader standing next to Larry and Sergei lol Now THAT would seem more like the situation to me :)
Rand is SEOMoz brand his yellow shoes are as much part of their brand as their logo, you have to remember this is a mom and pop company which while well known in our field are a tiny company with a handful of employees going through the first stages of moving from a small to medium size business. They don’t have a lawyer of PR team looking over every public information release and they are bound to make mistakes. Like many small companies the employees are fiercely loyal to the company but more importantly to their friend if some one criticised your friends harshly and at time using more fruitful language and metaphors would you not jump to their defence.
SEOMoz has created an odd situation for themselves on the one hand they are considered a leading company in the SEO community and have certainly one of the most popular (and well written) blogs, but they are also still a tiny company without any of the mechanisms larger companies have in place to assure quality control and standards not that larger companies achieve it and mistakes are always made.
Ultimately the relaxed style works for them more then it doesn’t, the company reputation is still a good one, but and I hope that the SEOMoz guys and gals take this onboard as a friendly nudge. Rand is a great guy and SEOMoz is a great place but you have got yourselves on a pedestal you are not whiter then white and are prone to making mistakes, your blog is enjoyable and clever but you must take on board that you have to have the facts before not after a post. Search engine optimisation as a discipline is filled with wannabes, those on pedestals are idolised and idols fall out of grace but a company that now has money behind it, is a prime target for a good lawyer you step on the wrong toe and you haven’t got the facts or you imply or just haven’t checked or you fail to say you checked, you will be slapped, also as your business model shifts away from clients to providing training and tools you will have to be even more careful as educators you are placed in a position of trust if you provide false or misleading information reading a few vicious blog posts will seem a nice way to spend your Sunday.
That said every time something as small as this happens you learn something even if it seems inconsequential presenting not just the results but the methodology and the data is an important part of any scientific test you guys might not be engineers but your in a technical discipline and so hopefully will work to the same standards of testing that you would expect when building a bridge.
Sorry for the long rant, to the majority of posters SEOMoz made a few tiny errors of judgements and I think mainly in the method of presentation of their results remember that they are first and foremost friends and a company second (at least that’s my perception)so remember that.
SEOmoz are a bunch of know it alls and rand thinks his right about everything. People give them to much credit. I unsubscribe from there feed a while ago. Also they probably datamine with there tools
Ivan, this post was not some attempt at random mud slinging on SEOmoz. You can’t go around spouting out stuff like “they probably data-mine with there tools”. First of all you have no evidence to suggest that and your remarks are irresponsible. Also, it’s their not “there”.
“your ideas intrigue me, I would like to subscribe to your newsletter,” Homer Simpson
Great post dude, and you thought it would be unpopular.
Rand was wrong for ratting on specific sites considering the ramifications could be highly detrimental.
If one of my sites tanked because of his mouth I would be insanely pissed.
And his underlings were too quick to jump to his defense when they themselves did not test the validity of his statements. Blind followers: see also Milgram experiment & World War II
Being called michael moore of seo is a compliment.
Scientists and authors get debunked all the time, so there is nothing bad or new going on here.
I am glad several people took the time to find flaws with Rands methodology.
Sometimes I wonder if SEOs are in fact grown-ups. All this silly fighting surely doesn’t do any good for SEO reputation.
In my 13-14 years of using and reviewing SEO sites, SEOmoz is just behind WebPosition’s newsletter as the most dangerous SEO information site I’ve ever visited. The staff seem green as grass not to say there isn’t good potential just… a big lack of real experience! I visit mainly to have a good laugh and see what the myopic 3G (3rd Generation) SEOs are up to today, so… I know what to expect to be in tomorrow’s Google slapdown.
Mostly I just don’t get how we got to the point that this bunch carries any weight, it just shows how starved people are for info! I quit publishing because I don’t like deadlines… SEOmoz might want to look at slowing down the posting and doing some real research that would result in higher quality useful, wel thought out material rather than being the “Natiional Enquirer” of SEO blogs!
Just my .02 and we all know what that’s worth.
SEOmoz is not all that bad…
I agree about SEOmoz, it is not a bad tool but is very clicky (as many other social media sites tend to be…) if you are not in the “popular” crowd then its tough to get a response…gosh this seems like high school all over again! :o)